Audio Transcript

A number of listeners to this podcast listen with their children, which is great! But today, in this episode we are going to talk about pornography. This is a common question we get a lot of times in the inbox, and it’s a sobering one. Here it is. Should a pastor who uses pornography resign from his leadership role? It is also a question Barna researchers recently asked about 3,000 Christians, a study produced in partnership with Josh McDowell Ministry. Only 8% of pastors said yes, that a pastor using porn should resign. When the question was asked of adult Christians, 41% said yes, a pastor should be fired, or asked to resign. So obviously this huge disparity is a cause for concern alone about sexual sin in pastoral ministry, it seems. Pastor John, how do you read the numbers? The 8% and the 41%. And how would you answer the question?

What appalls me in those statistics is not the disparity, but how low both figures are. I mean, 8% is inconceivable. They must have asked the question in a peculiar way. I can’t believe that number. 41% maybe, but both of them in my opinion are appallingly low. And your question is, What do you think and why?

“If money and wine can knock you out of the ministry, how much more the inability to overcome the temptation to pornography?”

So, if I were on a leadership team, that is, if I were a fellow elder of a pastor and it came to my attention that he was looking at pornography, say, on the Internet — or worse kinds of involvements I suppose, though they are all terrible — I would try to follow the steps of Matthew 18 and go with the informant to talk to him personally, privately. And from that point on, whether he should step down from his pastoral role either to an extended leave or resignation depends, in part, on whether this was an isolated incident or a pattern.

If all the other evidences of qualification for the eldership in the New Testament were present and this incident proved to be an aberration of his consistent purity of heart, purity of eyes, purity of relationships, then I would try to resolve it privately with his wife and the other elders. And yes, I do think we should draw in the other elders at this point, even though Matthew 18 isn’t talking about that. And the reason is that I think whether a leader is willing to be vulnerable and accountable to his leadership team, the fellow elders, is crucial to know. If he is resistant to that, it is a very bad sign.

But if the incident proves to be an ongoing habit of watching pornography, I do regard him as unqualified for the pastoral ministry, the eldership. And I would encourage him to resign and undertake all the biblical strategies of liberation that he can amass. And behind that position are two convictions: one has to do with leadership qualifications in the New Testament and the other has to do with the nature of grace. The first conviction about leadership qualifications is that pastors, overseers, elders, whatever term a church uses for their leaders, in the New Testament they are called to have a higher standard of moral and spiritual qualification than the church members as a whole. And you can see those qualifications laid out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

“Pastors are called to have a higher standard of moral and spiritual qualification than the church members.”

When I try to contemplate how a man could be qualified to lead the church as one who has been unable to conquer the temptation of pornography, I can’t imagine that such a person is qualified.

I am just going to list all the reasons here that I am drawing out of those qualifications from the New Testament: He is, in essence, being disrespectful at best and unfaithful at worst to his wife. He is defiling his heart, time after time, and falling short of having a pure heart that can see God. Blessed are the pure in heart, because they can see God (see Matthew 5:8). How can you lead a people if you can’t see God for who he really is and are constantly defiling your ability to see the Lord?

He is making it very difficult for himself to look at women in the church with any purity, the flock that he is called to care for without seeing them in some contaminated way as those images are corrupting his mind. He is manifesting a lack of self-control, which is explicit in the qualification list. If the outsiders knew what he was doing, he wouldn’t be well thought of. No, he wouldn’t. Even the world would not regard such a man as fit to be a spiritual leader of men and women. They might regard him as normal to take care of anybody else. But they wouldn’t say that such a man should be a spiritual leader.

“How can you lead people if you can’t see God for who he really is and are constantly defiling your soul?”

In the New Testament, qualifications for elders are given about not being addicted to wine and not being lovers of money (1 Timothy 3:3). That is interesting. When you take money and wine, in other words, he is saying you are unqualified if the temptation of wine and the temptation of money overcome you. Well, if money and wine knock you out of the ministry, how much more the inability to overcome the temptation to pornography? And I say more, I say worse, because these are real women on the screen. This is a pastor. These are real women. They have souls. They are going to heaven or hell. They have mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers whose relationships are being ruined by these lives.

It is just incomprehensible to me that anybody could defend their fitness for ministry while engaging in a regular way with this kind of thing. And when it becomes known in the church — and it will become known in the church — that he is a user, how will his credibility in the preaching of holiness and purity and obedience to Christ have any credibility or weight at all? So, the fact that the New Testament elevates the qualifications for leadership in the church above what is expected of all Christians — and even those are high — makes it difficult to imagine how a pastor in a pattern of pornography could be qualified to lead the flock of God into a more holy and pure walk with God, which is what his job is at its heart.

“When grace operates in community, not just individually, it takes into account a church that needs gracious protection.”

Now, I said there were two convictions behind my position. And the other one is just a short word about a view of grace. Of course, there is forgiveness for such sin, just like there is forgiveness for all of us, and grace is eager to offer it to a penitent, humble pastor. But when grace operates in community, not just one-on-one, but in community, it takes into account not just an individual who needs forgiveness, but a church that needs protection, gracious protection — a church that needs godly examples in leadership, graciously needs godly examples in leadership. And, thus, grace toward the people will result in the removal of the leader. People don’t get that lots of times, that grace is not a simple thing of just one-on-one. There are more people involved than just one. So, because of those two convictions, I would encourage pastors who are in a pattern of pornography to step down.


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